Getting the Garden Ready

We’ve been working intensely over the last week or two, getting the garden ready for planting; that is one big reason why blog posting has been so sparse of late.

Before I forget — for those of you thinking about putting in a garden for the first time, Mrs Yeoman Farmer strongly recommends a book called Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times. If you buy only one gardening book, she says this is definitely the one to get.

But back to our own garden. You may remember that we left several garden beds fallow last year, and ran portable poultry pens full of turkeys up and down them. That proved to be an excellent system. We began preparing those beds on Friday and Saturday, getting ready to plant potatoes in them. There were very few weeds to remove, as the turkeys had wiped them completely out. And the layer of fertilizer the turkeys left behind had broken down over the winter into a nice, rich soil that was easy to work. A severe late-afternoon thunderstorm (of the kind so common here in the upper Midwest in the spring) interrupted our planting, but we did manage to get a trench dug and about half a bed of seed potatoes into the ground.

Mrs Yeoman Farmer plans to use every one of the garden beds this year, which means we need to get some fertilizer onto the ones we used last year. As we don’t want to use synthetic fertilizers, and we don’t yet have a good compost heap, our “quick and dirty” solution involves putting more birds to work. For the last week, I’ve had a pen of 15 or so older laying hens moving down a bed that had tomatoes planted on it last year. I’d suspected that these hens had reached the end of their productive laying life, but they have surprisingly been holding their own in the egg department; we’ve gotten several eggs out of the pen each day, and I’m glad I didn’t simply butcher them. So, in addition to wiping out the weeds and getting some fresh fertilizer onto the garden, the pasture pen has proven itself useful in yet another way: letting us test the productivity of suspect hens.

Just this morning, we got a second “tractor” pen moving on another garden bed. This one contains the seventy young chicks (30 broilers and 40 pullets) that we got a few weeks ago; they’d been indoors, in a brooder, until now. We actually could have gotten them outside several days ago, but we’ve been too busy building pens and taking care of more urgent tasks. Anyhow, this photo gives a good look at the pullet pen (foreground), with the mature hen pen in the background. Because the manure from both of these pens is so fresh, we will need to wait a few weeks before planting them — and we will need to work the manure into the soil thoroughly. Otherwise, the nitrogen-rich chicken droppings will be too “hot” for newly-planted seedlings.
Mrs Yeoman Farmer wants to add a few more beds to the garden, which will involve the tedious task of “busting sod.” Regrettably, she didn’t realize we’d need the new beds until after we’d butchered the turkeys last fall; otherwise, we could have used the turkey tractors to clear the sod for us. As it is, I’ve put the new baby waterfowl (ducklings and goslings) into a pasture pen to at least get the process started. (Given the enormous appetite that goslings in particular have for grass, I figured this would be an excellent job to put them in charge of.) Here is what they’ve managed to do in just a day and a half:
Given all the work that remains to be done, I can’t promise frequent postings over the next few weeks. But I do plan to put more details up about gardening; I really wanted to publish something about it before the planting season, when the information would be more useful for my readers. Stay tuned.

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